Andre Henrique | @Andrefilipe_H
In recent years, SL Benfica has firmly established itself as a home away from home for Argentinian footballers. There are those players who make the 6000-mile trip from Argentina directly to Lisbon looking to establish themselves on the European stage, such as the likes of Ángel Di María and Enzo Fernández and then there are those who moved elsewhere in Europe before finding their way to the Estádio da Luz later on in their careers such as Pablo Aimar, Javier Saviola and Toto Salvio. Whatever the route, Argentinian players have a deep and special connection with Benfica, so much so that Argentinian players have amassed over 1700 combined matches for the club throughout its history, contributing to many of Benfica’s more recent triumphs.
Following Argentina’s World Cup triumph in Qatar, club captain and defensive stalwart Nicolás Otamendi and Young Player of the Tournament, Enzo Fernandez will be returning to Seixal as World Cup winners. Their involvement in Argentina’s third World Cup conquest means that they entered the Portuguese football history books as the first players to ever win a FIFA World Cup whilst being a current Primeira Liga player!
With this recent triumph, there is no better time to take a look at the key players who connect the paths between La Albiceleste and As Águias.
Ángel Di María (2007 – 2010)
Another who became a World Cup winner in Qatar, Di María played 121 games for Benfica across three seasons before leaving for Real Madrid in 2010.
He joined Benfica from Rosario Central as a 19-year-old back in 2007, arriving with Andrés Diaz in a joint deal worth around six million euros. Much of what we know now of Di Maria’s talents; tricky wing play, excellent first touch and creativity on the ball were all showcased in Lisbon. During his time in Portugal, Di María helped Benfica to a Primeira Liga title and two Taça da Liga trophies. The winger would go on to become one of the best players in the world, winning further titles in Spain, England, France and Italy.
Pablo Aimar (2008 – 2013)
A classy attacking midfielder, Aimar is one of those aforementioned players who didn’t move directly from Argentina to Portugal. Starting out at River Plate, Aimar first moved to Europe in 2001 to play for Valencia and then Real Zaragoza.
El Mago eventually found his way to Benfica in 2008 and went on to cement himself as one of the best creative midfielders the Estádio da Luz has ever seen. He made 179 appearances for As Águias, scoring 17 goals and providing 42 assists. He won five trophies at Benfica, one for every year he was there (2008 to 2013).
Eduardo ‘Toto’ Salvio (2012 – 2019)
Eduardo Salvio has the honour of being the Argentine with most appearances for Benfica with 266 as well as the most goals with 62. The former Argentina international started his professional career at Lanús before moving to Europe to play for Atlético de Madrid. His performances whilst on loan at Benfica in 2010/11 were enough for the club to splash out on him permanently, joining Benfica for a then-club record of 13.5 million euros.
The winger was a regular fixture for Benfica in what was a period of total dominance in Portuguese football, helping the club to a whopping five Primeira Liga titles in six years. In addition to the Liga titles, he won six domestic cups and was a UEFA Europa League runner-up on two separate occasions for the club. He left in 2019, returning to Argentina to play for Boca Juniors.
Nicolás Gaitán (2010 – 2016)
Nico Gaitán is another of the Argentines that came to Benfica directly from South America in a bid to announce himself on the European stage. Gaitán arrived back in 2010 from Boca Juniors as a replacement for the outgoing Ángel Di María.
He did an outstanding job of filling the Di María gap, going on to feature over 250 times for Benfica, scoring 41 times and providing 89 assists. A mercurial talent with one of the best left foots the Benfica fans will ever see, his creativity lit up the Primeira Liga before he eventually left for Atlético de Madrid in 2016 for around 25 million euros.
The Buenos Aires-born attacking midfielder is once again back in Portugal, turning out for Paços de Ferreira. His career perhaps didn’t hit the heights some thought it would after leaving Benfica but with three league titles and seven domestic cups, as well as two runner-up finishes in the Europa League, Gaitán is certainly an Argentine to remember for his time at Benfica.
Javier Saviola (2009 – 2012)
Saviola joined Benfica relatively late in his career, having already turned out for River Plate, FC Barcelona, AS Monaco, Sevilla and Real Madrid. He joined in 2009 and despite only spending three years at the club – he managed to win four trophies (one Liga title and three Taça da Liga trophies). He scored 39 goals and provided 34 assists, showing his talent as a creator as well as a goalscorer.
In the Primeira Liga in particular Saviola was very impressive, providing 44 goal contributions in just 69 games and showing that he still had a lot to give for a European club.
There are too many players to write about in one piece, but special mentions also go to Ezequiel Garay and Enzo Perez, who were both at Benfica from 2011 to 2014 and were both pivotal in the cup runs to the Europa League final. Both played over 100 times for Benfica and won a league title in their final season.
Enzo Fernández may be the latest in a long line of Argentinian players to represent Benfica, with well-renowned Argentine clubs like River Plate and Boca Juniors feeding the Primeira Liga with top talent, but he certainly won’t be the last.